When Sageer Hussain and seven other men from Rotherham were sentenced to prison, the woman they had raped and sexually abused as a teenager was determined to be in the public gallery.
Emma Jackson (not her real name) had given evidence behind a screen over three painful days in the witness box at Sheffield crown court. But on Friday she was ready to face her abusers when the judge jailed them.
“I want to see their eyes when they get their sentences,” said Jackson, who was branded a “white slag” by her abusers, seven of whom are of British Pakistani origin. “I’ve been living with what they did to me for the last 13 years. Now they will know what it’s like to suffer.”
Jackson is now 27 and the mother of a young son. She was 13 and 14 when Hussain used drugs and alcohol to groom her for sex. He raped her behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham and at other locations around the South Yorkshire town, before passing her on to one of his brothers, Basharat, two of his cousins and various friends.
She reported her abusers at the time, having saved all the clothes she was raped in as evidence. The police lost them. Social workers closed her file because she came from a supportive family in a middle-class area. She once claimed a detective told her: “We just think it is little white slappers running around with Asians.” At school other pupils branded her a “Paki shagger”.
Jackson thinks the ethnicity of her abusers is relevant. “I know that there are Asian girls who have been exploited,” she said, “but I never saw my abusers with any Pakistani girls. It was always white girls. There is a pattern there that you can’t ignore and it is something we need to tackle.”
Jackson’s parents begged for help from their local MP, Kevin Barron; the then home secretary, David Blunkett; and the children’s commissioner, the court was told. But her abusers continued to swagger around Rotherham, threatening her family with violence, to the point that the Jacksons briefly moved abroad to try to start a new life.
The unanimous guilty verdicts delivered last month came as a tremendous relief, but also brought frustration. “I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache.”
Now a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, Jackson wants an official apology from South Yorkshire police. Though she praises the officers who brought her case to court, she would like a letter acknowledging that the force failed her as a teenager. “It would mean a lot to me to receive an official apology,” she said.
Six years before the court case, Jackson wrote a book, Exploited, about her experiences, and had given evidence to the home affairs select committee. When the prominent social worker Alexis Jay published her report on sexual exploitation in Rotherham, saying at least 1,400 children had been abused in the town over a 16-year period, Jackson went public to say she was one of them.
But nothing could quite prepare her for the ordeal of giving evidence. Walking into court on the first day, she couldn’t see Hussain but immediately caught a whiff of his aftershave from behind the screen. Now 30, he was wearing the same brand as he had in his teenage years. “His smell was a big thing for me. It made me feel a bit sick,” she said.
Jackson was infuriated at her cross-examination in the witness box. “The barristers just dragged everything up. It was a load of old crap. I was warned in advance that it wasn’t personal and the barristers were just doing their jobs, but it felt personal. It was quite maddening.
“It’s not a nice experience because they literally rip you to pieces. They try to trip you up; it’s as though they try and manipulate your words. To me it seems that it’s the victim who is the one who is put through the mill. That makes me quite angry.”
With her abusers now in jail for the foreseeable future, Jackson plans to move on with her life. She is catching up on the education she missed out on as a teenager and plans to go to university next year to study social work. But she will never be able to forget what happened to her.
“They took my education – that has set me back. It’s affected my relationships because I can’t fully trust people. I have mental health issues and suffer a lot from depression. But it’s not just my mental health that has been affected: my immune system is weak too. I pick up bugs really easily and have had glandular fever and shingles. It’s affected my life massively.”
Eight members of a Rotherham grooming ring have been jailed for between five and 19 years for sexually exploiting and causing “immeasurable and far-reaching harm” to a teenage girl.
The eight men had been found guilty of 19 charges, including rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment of girls as young as 13 between 1999 and 2003.
A Sheffield crown court trial, which ended in October, heard how the men “sexually degraded” their victims, subjecting them “to acts of a degrading and violent nature”.
The men jailed on Friday were Sageer Hussain, 30; Mohammed Whied, 32; Ishtiaq Khaliq, 33; Waleed Ali, 34; Asif Ali, 30; Masoued Malik, 32; Basharat Hussain, 40; and Naeem Rafiq, 33.
The judge, Sarah Wright, said they had caused “severe psychological harm” to their three victims.
The main complainant, now 27 and a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, told the Guardian she felt vindicated after the men were convicted.
“I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said.
The woman, who uses the pseudonym Emma Jackson, said her abusers threatened to “gang rape” her mother if she did not submit to their sexual abuse, which took place largely in an alley behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham town centre, in a park and in bushes near a museum.
Her family were so afraid they moved to Spain after complaining to the police, social services, their MP and the then home secretary, David Blunkett, the court was told.
The woman told jurors that Sageer Hussain – who is of British-Pakistani origin, along with all but one of the other men in the dock – first raped her behind Boots when she was 13 and later called her a “white slag” when she tried and failed to stop him.
She told police that the first and second time he raped her, between 1 January and 4 April 2003, he told her to scream so that his friends, waiting nearby, would know to come and watch. He was found guilty of four counts of rape and one of indecent assault.
After the convictions, the National Crime Agency said it was separately investigating more than 11,100 lines of inquiry relating to non-familial child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.
Thirty-eight people had been designated “suspects” with many more under investigation, according to the NCA, which is carrying out the independent investigation at the request of South Yorkshire police.
NCA staff have been talking to 133 alleged victims and survivors and have recorded 163 crimes. They have identified 17 distinct investigations under the overall inquiry.
Nine people have been arrested as part of the operation, codenamed Stovewood, with all suspects bailed until November and December, and one organised crime group has been mapped, identifying the nature and scale of its offending. Money laundering, other financial crime and drug-related offences have also been identified.
The operation began after the publication in August 2014 of the Jay report, which said at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period from 1997.
Jackson and the two other victims were in court as Wright jailed their abusers. They sobbed and wiped away tears as their victim impact statements were read to the court.
Their abusers showed no emotion as they were jailed. Sageer Hussain appeared to smirk as he was led away.
Wright said each of their victims were “groomed, coerced and intimidated”. Their abuse was “carefully planned”, she said, adding: “An abuser would build up their trust and it is a common feature of this case that abusers are often described as initially caring and loving but then turning to becoming controlling and domineering.
“Some victims were given alcohol and/or drugs and each of them was given attention. The power that you, the abusers, were then able to have over them meant that the girls distanced themselves from their parents or carers.”
Wright praised the dignity and bravery of the victims and their families.
In a statement read by police outside court, one of the victims urged others to report grooming: “I know grooming still goes on but I feel that the help is available now if you speak out. Groomers thrive in the silence of others. Speak out and someone will listen.”
She added: “If you see a child in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable please report it, [child sexual abuse] is everyone’s issue and we all play a part in stamping it out.”
DCI Martin Tate, senior investigating officer, said: “The rape and sexual abuse of children is completely abhorrent and this group have shown no remorse for their crimes, forcing the young women who came forward to report this awful abuse to relive traumatic experiences before the court.
“We are indebted to the victims, who have supported our investigation and have shown remarkable strength in attending court to give evidence.”
Three men have been jailed for their part in an inner-city sex ring involving the abuse, rape and trafficking of young girls.
Victims as young as 14 were subjected to sexual abuse that was “degrading, violent and horrible” in Bristol. Some of the girls were given drugs and alcohol and “pestered again and again” for sex by the men, who were mostly older teenagers.
Bristol crown court heard that the rapes became “routine” and the men regarded some of the victims, who cannot be named, as “cheap and easy”.
Three men – Sakariya Sheikh, 23, Mohammed Dahir, 24, and Abdirashid Abdulahi, 23 – were convicted of 14 charges relating to four girls.
Judge Peter Blair QC jailed Sheikh for 16 years, and Dahir and Abdulahi both for eight years, after a seven-week trial. “You have brought shame upon your families and upon yourselves,” the judge told them. “You are not worthy of very much further attention in this courtroom. My attention is focused upon the victims of your crimes.
“They were four children trying to find their way in life, some of them struggling with difficult issues at home. You used your older age, your personal freedom and your relative stronger power to manipulate and coerce them into becoming for you little more than objects to satisfy you sexually.”
The judge said the abuse had left the victims feeling “worthless”.
“Their pain goes on and so it will for you now,” he told the defendants. “They are at long last receiving some measure of justice from your convictions. Their very brave and difficult decision to give evidence against you has been vindicated and I pay tribute to them.”
Seven men went on trial accused of 46 charges. Three were acquitted after the jury failed to reach verdicts and another man was found not guilty of the two charges against him.
The trial, which came after an investigation codenamed Operation Button, was the third in a series of prosecutions of Somali men for child sexual exploitation and drug offences.
In two earlier trials in 2014, after an investigation codenamed Operation Brooke, 14 men were jailed for more than 100 years between them. Sheikh, Abdulahi and Dahir – were also found guilty in Operation Brooke.
During the latest trial, jurors heard that a 15-year-old girl was simultaneously raped by Sheikh and another man in March 2013. The majority of the offences happened between 2011 and 2012 against girls who had travelled to Bristol by train to meet the men.
Anna Vigars, prosecuting, said the victims “suffered sexual abuse, some of it violent, degrading and horrible, some of it less so”.
Speaking after the case, DS Lisa Jones, of Avon and Somerset police, said the offences had inflicted “long-term pain and torment” on the victims.
“These defendants befriended these vulnerable young people who were still at school, grooming and sexually exploiting them,” she said. “Their systematic abuse over a number of years slowly eroded their confidence and made them think these crimes were normal behaviour.”
In a statement issued through police, the Bristol Somali community said it was “deeply appalled” by the case. “Our deepest sympathy wholeheartedly goes out to the victims and their families who are undoubtedly experiencing extreme pain at the moment,” it said. “Our community, a Muslim and black minority ethnic community, in Bristol would like to underline that we sincerely condemn the nature of these crimes.”
The family of a “lovely” 13-year-old girl who claims to have been groomed for sex by Asian men in Rotherham were so afraid of her alleged abusers that they moved to Spain after their complaints to the police, social services, their MP and the home secretary went unresolved, a court has heard.
The girl, who cannot be named, is the main complainant in the trial of eight men from the South Yorkshire town who allegedly groomed and sexually exploited three underage girls between 1999 and 2003.
Now 27 and a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, she claims her abusers threatened to “gang rape” her mother if she didn’t submit to their sexual abuse, which took place largely in an alley behind Boots the Chemist in Rotherham town centre, in a local park and in bushes near Rotherham museum, Sheffield crown court heard on Tuesday.
She claims that Sageer Hussain, 30, first raped her behind Boots when she was 13 and later called her a “white slag” when she tried and failed to stop him. She told police that the first and second times he raped her, between 1 January and 4 April 2003, he told her to scream so that his friends, waiting nearby, would know to come and watch.
She claims that on another occasion she was driven to Rotherham’s Clifton Park by Hussain’s cousin, Mohammed Whied, who sat on the car bonnet watching while Hussain raped her inside. On a further occasion, Hussain allegedly raped her in bushes near the museum, calling her “a big baby” when she protested, then flicking cigarette ash in her hair, Michelle Colborne, QC, prosecuting, told the jury. A few days later he punched her in the face and threatened her with a crowbar and set light to an aerosol in her face, the barrister said.
Afterwards, the girl told her mother what had happened and gave a statement to police, alleging that various men had raped her, including Hussain. A medical examination in April 2013 recorded bruises to her thighs and bottom but she quickly withdrew the allegations and no charges were brought. Ten years later she re-reported the abuse to police, saying she had been threatened by the men at the time. “For example, they threatened they would gang rape her mother. They would drive around the estate where she lived to make sure they were serious,” Colborne told the jury.
The girl’s parents sought help from social services and the police, writing to their MP and the then home secretary, David Blunkett, who was an MP in Sheffield at the time. They had a panic alarm installed in their house and eventually moved to Spain to get away, the court heard.
Her mother later told police how she watched her child turn from “a loving, lovely girl to one she described as ‘horrible’ and she was powerless to control”, Colborne told the jury, asking: “What causes a perfectly lovely child to go from that state to a life of deceit and fear?” Hussain had subtly groomed the girl with cigarettes, alcohol and cannabis, she added.
The complainant now campaigns against child sexual exploitation, the jury was told. She has written a book about her experiences, has given evidence to the home affairs select committee and appeared in a Channel 4 programme called Britain’s Sex Gangs.
Hussain’s older brother, Basharat Hussain, 40, is also accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting the girl during the same period. Another of their cousins, Asif Ali, is accused of raping her around that time too, along with a friend called Ishtiaq Khaliq, now 33, Waleed Ali, 34, and Masoued Malik, 32. Malik is also accused of false imprisonment and conspiring to indecently assault her when she was 14, along with Naeem Rafiq, 33, in a house in Woodside Walk in Rotherham.
Two further complainants came forward earlier this year to accuse Khaliq of indecently assaulting on various occasions between August 1999 and December 2001.
The men deny all the charges against them. The case continues.
The Home Office has been accused of burying a long-awaited consultation that could recommend that people who work with children should be forced to report concerns of child abuse.
Documents seen by the Observer confirm that an impact assessment, necessary for the consultation to begin, was signed off last October. But the consultation, which concludes next month, did not begin until 29 July, the last day of parliament, when it was published along with 30 written statements.
The impact assessment suggests that high-profile abuse cases such as those in Rotherham and Oxford have “exposed professional and organisational failings to respond to child abuse and neglect”, and that there is a case for considering action against professionals who fail to take “appropriate action in relation to suspected child abuse”.
Now the manner in which the consultation was launched has prompted claims that the government is dubious about the merits of mandatory reporting – a requirement for certain organisations and employees working with children to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable grounds to suspect it was taking place. Currently there is no obligation for anyone in the UK working in a regulated activity to report the fact that they have witnessed abuse.
Supporters of mandatory reporting, which is observed in many other countries, say it would mean professionals could not turn a blind eye and would have to report their suspicions or face prosecution.
The government’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the consultation is in marked contrast to its earlier position. A letter from the former Home Office minister Lord Bates, dated 23 November 2015, to Baroness Walmsley, the Lib Dem peer, confirmed that the consultation would begin “shortly after the New Year”.
Last year the then prime minister, David Cameron, outlined plans that would see teachers, councillors and social workers in England and Wales who failed to protect children jailed for up to five years.
Walmsley, who backs mandatory reporting, expressed frustration at the way the consultation was being handled. “I do think they’ve buried it,” she said. “It was ready months and months ago and they didn’t release it. I’ve been harassing them and hassling them ever since the consultation was promised, which was a very long time ago. Now it’s happening at a time when those who will be most affected by it – teachers – are on holiday.”
Walmsley said the government feared that the new law would result in system overload.
But evidence from an expert, Ben Mathews, a professor of law at Queensland University of Technology, which has been omitted from the consultation, suggests the measure significantly increases detection of abuse.
Tom Perry, founder of Mandate Now, which campaigns for mandatory reporting, was scathing about the government’s approach to the consultation. “The principal objective of the consultation is to keep the number of [abuse] referrals down in order to save money,” Perry said. “It has nothing to do with improving child protection.”
He said claims that “dinner ladies would be jailed” for failing to report signs of child abuse revealed the level of ignorance about the proposed new law.
“The government are being advised by the NSPCC and for some reason the NSPCC are not in favour of legislation about mandatory reporting,” Walmsley said. “They are mistakenly thinking it will affect social workers – which it won’t because they don’t work in a regulated activity. Those of us campaigning for this want it to affect only those in regulated activities – we’re talking about schools, hospitals, youth clubs, GP surgeries. We need to make sure people are obliged to report if they seriously suspect a child is being abused. People need not just the freedom to tell what is going on, but a duty and to feel that they are protected if they do that.”
Kath Stipala, head of public affairs at the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, said the organisation was “broadly in favour” of it. “The evidence we have seen from Ben Mathews comparing similar places with one another suggests we’d get better reporting and that it saves money in the long term. If you look at the comparison of Victoria and Ireland, carried out in 2010, the evidence is that mandatory reporting will detect much more child abuse and pick it up earlier.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “In line with our commitment as part of the Serious Crime Act, we launched a consultation in July on possible new measures relating to reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect. It’s important we get this right – which is why we are seeking views from practitioners and professionals as well as the wider public. We urge everyone with a view on these issues to respond and ensure their voices are heard.”
Prof Alexis Jay is to take over as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse following the resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard, the home secretary has announced.
Jay, a child protection expert with more than 30 years’ experience, led the official inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, which found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013.
Amber Rudd, announcing Jay’s appointment, said: “She has a strong track record in uncovering the truth and I have no doubt she will run this independent inquiry with vigour, compassion and courage.”
Goddard, a New Zealand judge who was the third person to have been named as inquiry chair, offered her resignation last week, saying the inquiry had been beset by a “legacy of failure”.
Jay said she was committed to ensuring the inquiry did everything it had set out to do and did so “with pace, with confidence and with clarity.
“Be in no doubt – the inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors,” she said.
“I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present, and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future.”
The home secretary’s rapid move to replace Goddard after her unexpected departure last week has been enabled by powers under the Inquiries Act, which allow her to appoint a current member of the inquiry panel as a replacement chair.
“Let there be no doubt – our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished,” said Rudd. “We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them, and to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
It is understood that the salary package that Jay will be paid will be “significantly less” than the £500,000 a year paid to Goddard, which included a rental allowance of £110,000 and four return flights to New Zealand. Jay’s terms and conditions are to be published on the inquiry website in due course.
Jay has been a member of the inquiry panel from the start in July 2014. Her appointment was called for by some survivor groups, who said she had a good track record and was not seen to have any establishment links. She is a former social worker who was brought up by a single parent in a tenement in Edinburgh.
After stepping down as Scotland’s chief social work adviser in 2013, she took on the inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rotherham before moving on to review Northern Ireland’s safeguarding children’s boards.
Jay’s appointment was not welcomed by all survivors’ groups. Andi Lavery of the group White Flowers Alba, who has core participant status at the inquiry, said survivors did not want a social worker running the inquiry as members of the profession were among those who had failed to protect them. He said they wanted a legal figure such as the QC Michael Mansfield to be offered the job.
But Gabrielle Shaw, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, welcomed the announcement: “We’re delighted that a new chair has been chosen so quickly, so that [the inquiry’s] vital work can continue smoothly. Alexis Jay is likely to be a popular choice with many survivors, as she has done such good work on Rotherham and as part of the inquiry panel,” she said.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, also welcomed the appointment. “Prof Jay is clearly a suitable candidate with vast experience in these matters, is already a panel member, and has been commended for her inquiry in Rotherham,” he said.
“I am sure the home secretary will have noted that Prof Jay will be the first chair of the inquiry without legal or judicial qualifications. I hope it will be fourth time lucky, as we must not let the victims and survivors down.”
Goddard has been asked to appear before his committee on 6 September to explain her resignation.
I’m glad articles like this are getting written and published in the mainstream press, but it’s still not naming the problem; it is not naming men, it is not naming male entitlement, it is not joining the dots between child sex abuse, patriarchy and the sex industry.
The resignation of Lowell Goddard as chair of the official inquiry into historical child sex abuse is an opportunity for us to now focus on the really critical issue. For the inquiry to be credible the whole purpose must be to learn the lessons from past institutional failures so that children now and in the future are effectively protected.
The inquiry I chaired into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups found extensive evidence of professionals and institutions refusing to see the signs and hear the voices of abused children. This was institutional denial by those whose job is to protect children from rape and sexual violation.
There is a dangerous belief that the sexual abuse of children is a “historical” phenomenon, that it’s about a few rotten apples in high places or recognised positions of power. Let’s look at the reality. The new crime survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) tells us that 11% of all females and 3% of all males aged 16-59 have disclosed that they were sexually abused as children.
This translates into at least 600,000 girls in England today who are, have been or will be victims of sexual abuse by the time they are 18. The figure for boys would be at least 150,000. These figures are profoundly shocking and yet I am not in the least surprised by them for they fit the known evidence, including that most people were abused by someone known to them such as a friend, acquaintance or family member.
David Finkelhor, probably the world’s most eminent researcher on child sexual abuse, has gathered evidence in the US that as many as one in four females is a victim of child sexual abuse. If true for the UK, this would equate to 3 million of the 12 million children in England.
Frankly, whichever figure we go with, if this was a communicable disease such as measles or rubella, mass inoculations and huge public health campaigns would be the order of the day. But it’s not – it’s the rape and violation of children, so silence and turning away, wholly or partially, are the responses.
Understanding and addressing denial at the institutional, social and political levels is what the inquiry should be focusing on. It should identify the systemic issues that contribute to and perpetuate a climate and culture in which hundreds of thousands of children can be and are raped and violated.
The inquiry presents an important opportunity to counteract the shame and stigma of sexual abuse – two key factors that contribute so powerfully to the silencing of victims. It should do this by holding public sessions in which the inquiry, on behalf of the nation, bears witness to the suffering endured by those who were victims.
The focus of these sessions should be the institutional failures to protect rather than the naming and shaming of alleged perpetrators, and they should serve the dual purpose of public acknowledgement of terrible wrong done and lessons to be learned. Holding the sessions in public would give a powerful message that being a victim is not shameful or stigmatising and would help to give today’s victims the strength to speak out.
Two years into the inquiry, children continue to be abandoned to their fate and their abusers by persistent and continuing institutional failures, although the police must be given credit for now treating this crime with the seriousness it deserves. Compare the figures for the ONS with the numbers of victims of sexual abuse identified by local authorities. At any one time approximately 48,000 children in England have a child protection plan on the grounds of one of the four categories of physical, emotional, sexual abuse or neglect. Of these children approximately 5% have a plan on the grounds of sexual abuse.
This amounts to fewer than 2,500 children across the whole of England. I recently told a local authority what the likely real scale of sexual use is in their area as opposed to the minuscule numbers identified, using best case scenario prevalence data. They were horrified and said they could not begin to face up to the reality as they lacked the resources and skills to do so.
Turning away is not the answer. Placing the burden of disclosure on the victims is not the answer. This is the time to boldly face the reality of sexual abuse, to develop a national strategy to change culture and practice in our institutions, our mores, our way of life, so that we honour our obligations to children to keep them safe and free from harm. Children cannot wait five or 10 years for this inquiry to conclude. A new chair gives us the opportunity to get this right. The lessons from the inquiry need to be shared urgently and applied now.
Only 82 of 1,400 potential victims of child sexual abuse have been identified in Rotherham, by the National Crime Agency.
The NCA said it recognised it was “only a small percentage (5%) of the overall potential number of victims and survivors” but said the scale and complexity of the investigation meant it was pursuing more than 10,000 lines of inquiry.
The agency was brought in following the explosive 2014 Jay Report that identified large-scale abuse in the South Yorkshire town and a failure by police and the local council. to investigate complaints made by victims.
The NCA has so far identified 29 “designated suspects” and hundreds more “potential suspects”.
This means there are six more people on the police radar since February, when a grooming gang of three brothers, their uncle and two women were found guilty of 55 serious offences against teenage girls in Rotherham, some of which lay undetected for almost 20 years.
Operation Stovewood is the largest child sex exploitation investigation in the country and one lawyer working with victims said he understood why it was taking so long.
“It is slow progress, but there are doing a really thorough job. I think it will be five years before they get to a point where they have persuaded as many victims to come forward as willing to,” said David Greenwood.
He said the police were reviewing all the documentation and investigating the status of potential victims before approaching them. “They want to see where a girl is in her life, whether she is safe, whether she’s in the right place in life to go forward with evidence. The background checks are really thorough,” he said.
The NCA said one victim they had interviewed had provided information about nine further victims, 17 witnesses and 40 potential suspects. “This demonstrates the scale and complexity of sexual abuse under investigation,” it said in a statement.
It said victim interviews can take weeks or months to arrange and the review of in excess of 120,000 historic documents over 16 years in relation to child sexual exploitation had never been done before.
Rotherham council has said it hopes to put the past behind it as it prepares to agree a new strategy that aims to “put children at the heart of everything it does”.
In response to a scathing 2014 report on its handling of widespread child sexual exploitation – which declared the council “not fit for purpose” – power was taken away from the town’s elected officials and put in the hands of government commissioners.
Although some powers were handed back after the recent local elections, councillors control only about a third of the local authority’s budget, and the children’s services are being completely restructured.
The new strategy, which seeks to make Rotherham a “child-centred borough”, will be approved by councillors and commissioners next Monday.
The plan, which does not come with any additional funding, recommends that a new group on the council be established to monitor issues including child health and safety, “the rights and voice of the child”, and “ensuring children reach their potential”.
It also recommends using data from a yearly lifestyle survey of residents to monitor children’s lives.
The deputy council leader, Gordon Watson, said: “A child-centred borough means putting children at the heart of everything. It means children can be heard; that we will help them to reach their potential and that we will keep children safe and healthy so we can continue to drive forward improvements.
“We’ve begun to make many improvements, and in particular in the way we look after our most vulnerable children, but clearly we want to be ambitious for all of Rotherham’s children which is why this new strategy puts children at the centre of council activity. Every child deserves the best start in life and this vision is about delivering this.”
The statement comes after the council confirmed it was considering closing two children’s homes in the area as part of an effort to get more children cared for by foster families. Rotherham council currently has three children’s homes, after closing two last year following an inspection.
A council spokesman said the review made it clear that both the Silverwood and Cherry Tree House children’s homes, although not deemed unsafe, did not provide the best possible homes for young people.
“Rotherham council is on a significant improvement journey which has already seen major changes across many children’s services,” the spokesman said.
Nine men have each been sentenced to up to 25 years in jail for a catalogue of serious sexual offences against teenage girls in Rochdale, exposed following widespread media coverage of grooming cases in the area.
The men were found guilty last month of abusing their victims, aged 13 to 22, between 2005 and 2013. The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges during two separate trials at Manchester Minshull Street crown court, which lasted a total of 15 weeks. A 10th man pleaded guilty and was sentenced last September.
During the sentencing, Judge John Potter said the fact that the women, now in their 20s, had given evidence was a testament to their “bravery, courage and fortitude”. Three of the victims were present in court to watch the sentencing and the public gallery erupted into applause when the sentences were read out.
The principal victim in the case, who was abused by all of the defendants, walked into a police station in 2012 claiming to know about “Rochdale grooming”, after news emerged of the convictions of a number of Asian men for grooming white girls for sex.
The victim reported that when she was aged 14 and 15 she was repeatedly sexually groomed by a large number of men from the Rochdale area. The victim – described by prosecutors as an “extremely vulnerable young woman” who had had a difficult home life and a learning disability – said her phone number had been passed around and that hundreds of men would ring her wanting to meet for sex.
The 10 men were charged as part of Operation Doublet, a police investigation into the alleged sexual exploitation of teenage girls by men in Rochdale. The operation has led to more than 100 people being arrested and questioned, the majority of whom had links to Rochdale.
Many of the offences date back 10 years and were first reported shortly after they were committed. In some cases the victims decided they no longer wanted to cooperate with police inquiries, while in other cases the police decided not to pursue the allegations. The victims were later approached by detectives to give evidence after the principal complainant came forward in 2012.
During the trial’s opening, the prosecution told the jury that even in the relatively short period of time since the offences had taken place “the whole of society has a much greater understanding of child sexual exploitation”.
Det Ch Insp Jamie Daniels, the senior investigating officer for Operation Doublet, said it had been an extremely complex case and commended the victims for their bravery. “Only with their support have we arrived at this point,” he said. “The process can be emotionally demanding and traumatic for the victims and we do not underestimate the courage this took.”
He said child sexual abuse was more than a criminal issue. “It is a social problem that we are working closely with our partners to tackle on many levels. Criminal investigations and convictions allow us to remove the offender but there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes. These are victim-led investigations and the long-term wellbeing and care of those victims is of paramount importance.”
In a statement read out to the court on Thursday, one victim said her experiences had been eating her up inside and that it was hard to describe the “brilliant relief” that came from telling someone. “After all these years something had been done. My head was clear and I could start to move on,” she said of the guilty verdict.
Afraz Ahmed, 33, of Rochdale, was found guilty of various sexual offences, including rape, conspiracy to rape and sexual activity with a child. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Another defendant, 40, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of rape and attempting to abduct a child. He was sentenced to 23 years.
Choudry Ikhalaq Hussain, of Rochdale, was convicted in his absence of rape, sexual activity with a child and conspiracy to rape. The 38-year-old, who left the country during his trial and is currently believed to be in Pakistan, was sentenced to 19 years.
Mohammed Dauood, 38, of Burnley, was convicted of rape, sexual activity with a child and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail. David Law, 46, of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, was convicted of conspiracy to rape and sentenced to 11 years.
Rehan Ali, 27, of Blackley, and Kutab Miah, 35, of Rochdale, were both found guilty of rape and sexual activity with a child. Ali was sentenced to seven years and Miah to nine.
Abid Khan, 38, of Liverpool, and Mohammed Zahid, 54, of Rochdale, were both found guilty of sexual activity with a child. Khan was sentenced to six and a half years and Zahid to five.
The 10th man, Mahfuz Rahman, 29, is serving a five and a half year sentence at Garth prison, having pleaded guilty in September to three counts of sexual activity with a child.
A spokesperson for the NSPCC child protection charity said the victims in the case had shown “a great deal of bravery to speak out, particularly the young girl who walked into a police station after seeing coverage of other child abuse cases in the Rochdale area and told detectives her grim story. This sends out a strong message that other victims of abuse can feel confident they will not be ignored and will be taken seriously.”